Monday, October 25, 2010

Laundry Extravaganza

Friday, October 22

Not even 8 AM and sweat is already pooling in the small of my back.

By 10 AM it's too hot to walk on the sand in my courtyard barefoot
(yet another habit my travel clinic nurse would love).

By 11:30 my laundry is sun-dried and toasty warm.

We had a laundry party this morning. (We being my favorite "foster mom" Abla and some of my meerkats -Christian, Sonya, Lucky, Daniel, Constance, and Fabris.)

Ghanaians have done more before noon than most Americans do in an entire day- which sort of evens out in the end considering they basically sleep for the rest of the daylight hours. It's Friday morning, but I have today and Monday off for our mid-term break. Of course no one told me it was going to be mid-terms, so I walked into school this past Monday and Saddam (my headmaster's lovely nickname) tells me, "You can give them their mathematics exam now." I made some sort of intelligent response along the lines of, "Uhhhhhhh...Huh?"

The cool thing about exams is that I get to write them myself. In theory I teach Math, English, Creative Art, Citizenship and Science. In reality we mostly just focus on Math, some Creative Art and daily English spelling, reading, grammar and writing. I'm detest math, but surprisingly I enjoy teaching it quite a bit.
On their math exam they had to identify how many tens and ones in two-digit numbers, show their work for addition and subtraction that involved carrying or borrowing, add/subtract numbers with a decimal, and write numbers in numeral form from word form. We've worked very hard on the difference between the "tys" and "teens", such as thirteen vs thirty.
On their English exam they had to change verbs from present to past tense, write the plurals of nouns, and label nouns common or proper . I've drilled them for weeks now: "A proper noun is a-" "NAME!" "It begins with a-" "CAPITAL LETTER!"

The lack of communication was frustrating, as is the examination process itself. The children take the exam, get caned if they fail and then life returns to normal. There aren't any records to keep track of who is struggling and no effort to provide them with any extra help.
Four of my kids did particularly poorly and Saddam punished them so severely that it got to the point where I actually jumped in front of one of them and told them to sit down. The poor things just stared back and forth from me to Saddam as we alternated orders: "Sit down." "Come back!" "Sit down." "Get back here!" I try very hard not to undermine his authority, but I will not allow my kids to get beaten for something that is not their fault. I finally told him it was my class and that is not the way I handle things.
Thankfully I was able to sit down with Saddam yesterday and discuss some changes we can hopefully make in the school. I pointed out that, since there are no walls between classrooms, my kids can barely hear me with the other classes runnng around screaming. And that there also isn't any sort of curriculum or records system. I told him that the kids should be helped, not punished.
Diplomacy is not my strong suit and I was probably too blunt, but Ghanaians tend to be blunter than a bubble-wrapped spoon, so he wasn't offended.

So anyway, now here I am with my unexpected day off and I desperately needed to do laundry. It's very hard work and I avoid doing it at all costs. Then I ran out of clean pants, so the time had come.
I'm able to do the small stuff myself, but someone has to help me with anything bigger than a washcloth. To do your laundry, you fill two basins with water from the well, take your washing powder (which rubs your hands raw and leaves your skin slightly sticky for hours) and begin scrubbing the cloth between your knuckles in a very distinct motion. The women all laugh at me when I wash, so I try to do it when no one is around. As one neighbor put it, "You look like my baby daughter when she tries to wash." They think it's hilarious, and I can take it with good humor, but it still gets annoying after a while to be constantly corrected on something I just don't have the ability to do exactly the way they do, at least at this point.

But, as is always the case when I'm home during the day, I inevitably become the involuntary Awakorme babysitter. I love, love, love kids...but I can only tolerate them for about an hour at a time now. At first they start creeping through our courtyard gate one by one, but eventually they come stampeding in a screaming, chanting horde. Between my neighbors and the other students at my school, I feel suffocated by children. There's just SO MANY of them, pushing and shouting and fighting and touching EVERYTHING! Actually I feel suffocated by people in general most of the time. I'm a curiosity, and I understand that. But honestly, people- I just want to read my book on a Sunday morning without five people over my shoulder. The little kids' behavior I can understand. It's Worfa's 16 year old nephews who mysteriously show up every time I'm home alone and just sit and watch me without saying a word who really irritate me.

But anyway.

I'd only been washing for a couple minutes when I already had a small ring of kids watching me curiously. This time the company ended up being very welcome though, because one of the mothers showed up just in time to help me with the big stuff.
We took two hours and washed my sandals, 9 shirts, 4 pairs of pants, 1 pair of pantlegs (yay for zip-offs), my washcloth, my towel, 5 pairs of underwear, 1 bra, 1 sock, the fabric I wear around the house, and 2 tanktops.
It's exhausting, and basically all I did was wring out the items once they'd been washed and rinsed and hung them on the clothesline. African women are made of tough stuff.
It was also a lot of fun though, with me an Abla and the puppy and the pack of kids running around doing together what is otherwise a mundane chore.
I guess being the neighborhood nanny is the price I pay for having clean clothes!

No comments:

Post a Comment